The rise of local startup ecosystems or why we acquired Startup SAFARI

In June we announced the acquisition of Startup SAFARI. Here is the backstory of why we acquired it.

When we started PIRATE Summit in 2011 we wanted to bring selected startup founders from the European startup ecosystem to Cologne to celebrate entrepreneurship with us and just have a good time. Essentially — as we didn’t like the tech conferences at the time — we created an event we’d love to attend ourselves.

Whereas a lot of things have changed the initial spirit and idea remains the same until this day. PIRATE Summit is e.g. still invitation/application-only because we value quality over quantity and we want to keep the asshole-ratio at an absolute minimum. Also our house rules — although not specified in writing until later — were established on the first PIRATE Summit and haven’t changed.

PIRATE Summit house rules

2012–2016 Bringing the PIRATE spirit to startup hubs around the world

Over the years it has always been the idea to bring the PIRATE spirit to local startup ecosystems. What started with a road trip to six countries in Eastern Europe back in 2012 — we love to think back to our nights in Skopje & Prishtina — grew to a tour of 50+ events in 40+ countries (called PIRATES on Shore and later PIRATE Summit Global).

We did PIRATE Summit Global because we have always been fascinated by local startup ecosystems beyond the normal hotspots. That’s why we organized events in cities like Baku, Minsk, Poznan, Tehran and many others. What we experienced blew our minds. Not only did we meet great people there. We also found that there are lot of hungry entrepreneurs, tech talent and promising startups. However, the ecosystems are — at least from the outside — hard to access and didn’t have the exposure and recognition they deserved.

Discussing the state of Eastern European tech ecosystems at PIRATE Summit 2015 — Photo by Dan Taylor, Heisenberg Media

Throughout our travels our passion for local startup ecosystems grew even stronger. And the potential and need was clear. We knew that we were working on the right topic. However, the amount of work we put in these events was crazy. In 2016 three people were working day & night for six months to plan events on three continents and still… once the first event took place the next one was already coming up and we had to quickly shift our focus from one event to the next one. It was like a constant flow of waves crashing on shore and we could hardly keep up. We were rarely able to unleash the full potential of these ecosystems with our own events and quality was often not up to our standards.

We had to ask ourselves: Is this worth it? Over the course of five years we made so many meaningful connections around the globe it sure was valuable to us. However, was it valuable to the local startup ecosystem? We knew we could do better. Also, the model we used to organize these events was neither scalable nor efficient. We had to reimagine it.

2017 — … Making tech ecosystems more transparent and accessible at scale

In the beginning of 2017 — as we were reimagining PIRATE Summit Global — we had a series of calls with Maciek Laskus the founder of Startup SAFARI (back then it was still called Startup SAFARY but we rebranded it since) about event business and running startup events.

At some point there was the idea that Startup SAFARI could be a great addition to the PIRATE family. We evaluated whether it could help us scale our vision of a decentralized global network of startup ecosystems. And we found that Startup SAFARI has the potential to be just that.

Till and Maciek with the signed acquisition agreement in Berlin, June 2017

Startup SAFARI is focused on local but is at the same time a powerful global network. We believe that’s where the future is as startups become more common. There are many more startups than just those in the hotspots like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv or Berlin. Also, there are plenty of ambitions worth pursuing other than becoming the next unicorn. Or in general terms, whereas the Fortune 500 might be sexy and talked about in the media, the Fortune 5 million are the ones that fascinate us. Those that contribute tremendously to a distribution of progress, stability and wealth. We believe in diversity and in the power of long tail. That’s our market and that’s where we want to be.

We want to celebrate the smaller startups. The bootstrapped entrepreneurs. The woman or man in the arena. Those that built profitable companies from scratch. And we don’t care whether you are making 50 million or 1 million in revenue. Are you building something valuable? Are you creating jobs? Are you changing the world for the better (at least a little bit)? Whether big or small, all entrepreneurs are going through an entrepreneurial rollercoaster. Entrepreneurs are our heroes. They deserve recognition. Especially the local ones. That’s what Startup SAFARI does: It gives them and all those that work tirelessly to grow the local startup ecosystem a stage.

Startup SAFARI Cologne: Eating our own dog food

Startup SAFARI is currently being organized in 10 cities around the world. We decided to add Cologne and organize it ourselves around PIRATE Summit early September. We see it as a great test (if we can’t make it work in Cologne, we probably can’t make it work anywhere else). We only launched end June and we experienced something very interesting over the last weeks: for the first time we have the feeling of being in touch with ALL startups from Cologne. And most of them will join and host a session at SAFARI (we expect around 100+ startups).

Also, for the first time we have the feeling that most of the stakeholders from the Cologne startup ecosystem are involved or want to get involved. Startups, investors, city, institutions, universities etc. We intend to make this an event that really helps the community get the visibility we believe it deserves, locally and regionally. With PIRATE Summit participants added (every PIRATE Summit participant gets a free Startup SAFARI ticket) we have the international component as well.

What is next?

Our vision is to bring Startup SAFARI to every city or region in the world and open the local startup ecosystem for everybody to experience. We’re already in touch with 15+ potential hosts and want to bring SAFARI to all continents in 2018.

Over the last five years we built an exceptional network of ecosystem builders from around the world. On September 5th, many of them will travel to Cologne and participate in our tech ecosystem summit — an invitation-only event we exclusively organize (as part of Startup SAFARI Cologne) for the movers & shakers of tech ecosystems .

If you are interested in bringing Startup SAFARI to your city and/or participate in the tech ecosystem summit then please don’t hesitate to contact our colleague Ben (ben@startupsafari.com).